Thursday, March 3, 2011

An American Tradition: Collective Bargaining

 Efforts by the Republican Governors of Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana to disenfranchise state and municipal employees by eliminating or drastically reducing their right to collective bargaining places them in uncomfortable company. In some “Marxist-Leninst” regimes, such as the former USSR or the People’s Republic of China, striking is illegal and viewed as counter-revolutionary, since the government in such systems claims to represent the working class, it has been argued that unions and strikes were not necessary. Egypt’s new military government has outlawed unions. In Jordan there are major restrictions on freedom of association that unfairly limit workers’ ability to form and join unions, as well as unions’ ability to represent workers. Unions are outlawed in Iraq.  In Iran, union organizers are routinely beaten, arrested and imprisoned. In Saudi Arabia the new Labour Code does not give workers the right to organize, bargain collectively or strike.  In Yemen labor union workers have been arrested and imprisoned.  I wonder if Governors Brown, Kasich and Daniels feel comfortable in this company?

The roots of our country's trade unions extend deep into the early history of America. Several of the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock in 1620 were working craftsmen. Captain John Smith, who led the ill-fated settlement in 1607 on Virginia's James River, pleaded with his sponsors in London to send him more craftsmen and working people. Guilds, of carpenters and cordwainers, cabinet makers and cobblers made their appearance, often temporary, in various cities along the Atlantic seaboard of colonial America. Workers played a significant role in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The Continental Congress met in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia, and there the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

The right to collectively bargain is recognized through international human rights conventions. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the ability to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right. Item 2(a) of the International labour Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work defines the "freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining" as an essential right of workers

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It explicitly grants employees the right to of employees for private companies to collectively bargain and join trade unions. The NLRA was originally enacted by Congress in 1935 under its power to regulate interstate commerce. In 1962, President Kennedy signed an executive order giving public-employee unions the right to collectively bargain with federal government agencies.

During the last session of congress, H.R. 413 and the Senate bills S. 1611 and S. 3991 were introduced which would grant public safety officers collective bargaining rights in states that don't currently provide them.  The legislation gives states wide flexibility to write and administer their own laws, consistent with the following minimum rights:
• to bargain over wages, hours and working conditions; • to use a dispute resolution mechanism, such as fact finding, mediation or arbitration; and • enforcement of contracts through state courts.
The legislation expressly prohibits strikes and lockouts; does not infringe on right-to-work laws; and does not interfere with existing state laws and collective bargaining agreements. The legislation failed due to the Senate’s arcane and convoluted filibuster rules that required a 60-vote supermajority for any legislation to be considered by the entire senate.
Polls show that from 52-70% of Americans oppose stripping public employees of the collective bargaining rights.  Maybe Brown, Kasich and Danies are worried the Democracy movement flourishing in the Middle East will spread to their states next.

No comments:

Post a Comment